Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Review

I know you got soul (Jeremy Clarkson, 2005).

I picked this up cheaply (very cheaply) at a book fair the other day, having seen a more upmarket edition in the shops a while ago and thought it interesting (although not interesting enough to actually buy it). The idea of the book is that certain machines can transcend their inanimate nature and become charismatic entities, able to be regarded with affection and mourned when their time has passed, quoting such examples as Concorde, the Flying Scotsman and various other planes, cars, ships and other machinery. As a motoring journalist and co-host of sort-of-about-cars TV Show Top Gear, Clarkson is in theory well placed to comment on the subject.

It's an idea I completely agree with, and think would make a great book. Unfortunately, that isn’t this book. As I progressed (rapidly, it isn’t exactly Dawkins or Fisk) through its 233 pages, I quickly reached the conclusion it was aimed at people who know nothing about the subjects under discussion. It was also apparent that the author (or his editor) doesn’t know much about them either, just enough to appear knowledgable to the uninitiated. The writing style is that of an excitable fanboy who thinks he knows more than he actually does rather than a genuinely knowledgable enthusiast.

The book is littered with inaccuracies, mis-representations, mis-interpretations, exaggerations, omissions and simple errors of fact on almost every page. Some basic fact checking would have been handy. The best entry is the one about the Millenium Falcon, which being fictional says a lot about the entries concerning the real-world rest of the book. As someone who does know something about some of the subjects, it quickly became a frustrating read, and one which I hurried to finish and be done with. I didn’t expect it to be great (I mean, with this author it's not exactly going to be a definitive reference work), just not as bad as it is.

Having enjoyed his other scribblings about cars in particular, a subject he actually does know a lot about, having established a career as a motoring journalist before the fame of Top Gear (although that said, I’m not exactly a car guru), and even acknowledging that Clarkson doesn’t pretend to be a serious authority on things, I was expecting better. It's just not very good, even by the standards of the author. Yet it's a bestseller. Go figure.

It’s good for a no stress no brainer read, but don’t be surprised if you quote something from it and someone corrects you.

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